We were asked this week: What consequences does a persistent wage gap have for Wyoming families?
Needless to say, we were pretty excited to get this question. There is a lot to talk about here —and a lot of opportunity to make meaningful and positive change if we can muster the collective political will.
So let's dig in.
And let's start with the basics: Not being paid fairly or equitably for the work that you do is just unfair. It runs counter to our Equality State values. (Also, everything Jen's grandmother taught her. If you get one cookie, everyone gets one cookie.)
Not being paid fairly or equitably for the work that you do obviously has significant financial consequences for women and their families. The gender wage gap is often referred to – and dismissed as—a “women’s issue.” But when it is more broadly understood as an economic issue, closing the gender wage gap would offer significant economic impacts and benefits to the entire state including, according to the Department of Workforce Services, the potential for $153M in additional labor revenue, more than 600 new jobs, and more than $5M in new state and local tax revenues, among many other benefits. These would be significant improvements for Wyoming’s economy and quality of life at a time when job creation and new sources of revenue is critical.
When women comprise so many of our low-wage workers and are impacted by the gender wage gap, there are long-term implications for families, too. Did you know that 7 out of 10 of Wyoming's minimum wage workers are women? Did you know that a wage of $15 would raise 52,000 Wyoming women out of poverty? (We're likely to recite these figures until everyone in our state can recite them, too.)
It is harder to pay for basic necessities, so things like preventive healthcare might fall by the wayside longer than they should.
It means that women are more likely to age into poverty. Women make up ~50% of Wyoming’s general population but closer to ~60% of the population over 75. When those women have fewer resources and it is women who are likely to have the low-paid caregiving work and the unpaid caregiving responsibilities for these women, we are highly likely to replicate the cycle.
Here's the other thing: We're leaving a lot out of the conversation.
What we’re not talking about as much as we could or should are the structural barriers that keep this situation in place. We do not believe that "leaning in" will fix this problem. There is no evidence that individual women asking for raises will open the floodgates to better pay for the majority of women.
Here are two systemic issues that you might not think about on the regular (but we do):
Unpaid work (mostly care/domestic work)
Our state and local tax code
According to a new report from IWPR: "Gender differences in paid and unpaid time at work are an important aspect of gender inequality. Women tend to spend more time on unpaid household and family care work and men spend more time in paid work. This unequal distribution of time creates barriers to women’s advancement at work and reduces women’s economic security."
Add to that the reality that unpaid caregiving responsibilities fall, disproportionately, to women.
“The failure to measure unpaid household services is perhaps the greatest gender data gap of all,” writes researcher Caroline Criado Perez. “Estimates suggest that unpaid care work could account for up to 50% of GDP in high-income countries. The U.N. estimates that the total value of unpaid childcare services in the U.S. was $3.2 trillion in 2012 or approximately 20% of GDP.”
A specific Wyoming example: The public policy director of the Alzheimer’s Association of Wyoming estimates that there are 28,000 unpaid caregivers in Wyoming—just caring for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias—providing 31M hours of unpaid care. Most of those hours are provided by women.
So whether or not there is affordable, accessible childcare in your area—and we know that this is yet another obstacle—or available care for aging family members, there is still going to be unpaid care work and that work generally falls to women.
On the topic of taxes and the tax code, boring as it may sound, it is yet another structural barrier. Women are basically missing from the tax code. There is a great new report just out from the National Women’s Law Center that talks about tax code reform as an overlooked means of achieving gender justice. They point out that until 1995, there wasn’t a single woman on the Senate committee that writes our tax code.
This is important because not a day goes by where we're unaffected by taxes. Buy some groceries? Someone made a decision about what is and isn't taxed in your cart. Take your kiddo to school? They're battling it out right now to decide the funding formula for that school based on taxes. Maybe they'll raise your taxes. Maybe they won't. Maybe you're paying additional taxes simply because you're a woman.
For example, Wyoming is one of the remaining states that still has a tampon tax. These are essential hygiene products—yet they are taxed as though they are luxury items. And they are not eligible for SNAP or WIC coverage. Again, because they are considered “luxury items.” Numerous states have repealed their tampon taxes because they have an obvious gender bias with economic implications for women and girls.
Taken together, these pieces help paint a picture of why it is not as simple as learning to negotiate. That assumes that each of us, individually, has the power to change all the structural barriers. Or, worse, it assumes that those barriers don't exist so if you don't get the raise or you can't accumulate wealth or you feel like you're working 20 hours a day and not getting paid for 12 of those hours that it is your fault.
We're here to tell you that it isn't your fault.
Don't get us wrong, we're not here to absolve anyone of her personal responsibility to be a hard worker and a good neighbor. That's on you. And you need to do it. But we are here to say: There is a broken system that is making your life harder than it ought to be. It needs changing.
And we're here to change it.
Want to learn more?
Check out Bridget Crawford’s work on the subject of the so-called Pink Tax. She’s generally considered the leading expert on the ways in which state and local tax code and consumer pricing cost women more than men; she has written (and spoken) extensively on the Pink Tax and The Unconstitutional Tampon Tax.
Or take a look at this report, From Cradle to Cane: The Cost of Being a Female Consumer, which examines gender pricing in New York City. Spoiler alert: Women pay more for the same products.
Or this study, The Pink Tax on Transportation: Women's Challenges in Mobility, that looks at the premium women pay for transportation to keep themselves safe.
We *loved* this Anne Helen Petersen essay on why she loves paying taxes. It is about taking care of your neighbors. About doing good for everyone—not just paying attention to the things that you use and benefit from personally.
One last nerdy point on tax code: Our state and local tax structures intersect with and amplify economic, gender, and racial inequality. The more regressive a state's tax code is, the more that already-disadvantaged groups—like women—are negatively affected. Wyoming's tax code is among the nation's Top 10 Most Regressive Tax Codes. Want to understand more about what that means for you? Read ITEP's Who Pays? Report.